Wild Eyes Florian Schulz points his lens at the Arctic
“Curious grizzly investigates a unfamiliar shape as it patrols the edge of the Canning River, Arctic Refuge, Alaskan Arctic” (Photo courtesy of Florian Schulz and the Anchorage Museum)Few people are willing to camp out at -30 for days at a time in order to get the perfect photograph of a polar bear feasting on whale bones. But an exhibit at the Anchorage Museum is showcasing wild works made with exceptionally radical methods.Download Audio“What we see here is three bull musk oxen outside of Nome,” explains 39-year-old photographer Florian Schulz. Behind him is a large-format photo, one of 35 featured in his exhibit “To The Arctic.”Schulz takes photos of wild animals. But the animals aren’t really the point, so much as the spectacular terrains they’re a part of.He found the three musk oxen butting heads during a blizzard, and lingered.“When everything really came together was when the three musk ox bulls all got in this perfect formation and headed into the setting sun,” Schulz said with a rising note of excitement in his voice. “It was just a magical moment.”He started taking photos at 14, and they quickly evolved into a blend of art and social commentary.Florian Schulz standing in front of several works, including the exhibits lead image, a polar bear gnawing on the spine of a Fin Whale. To get the shot, Schulz set a camera near the carcass, snapping photos with a remote from 50 yards away. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)“A lot of my work is about capturing the essence of a place where I want to document entire ecosystems,” he said as teenagers poked around the gallery’s white walls behind him. “Often I incorporate the animals in part of landscape.”That brought him to Alaska: When he was 22-year-old exchange student he drove up from Portland, continuing all the way to the North Slope along the haul road.“What has drawn me to Alaska, really, is the wildness, and that you still have the ancient movements of animals–like the great caribou migration, where animals in the tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands move across a still-wild landscape.” Schulz said, standing near several images of the Arctic tundra speckled with said caribou, taken from a Super Cub. “Nowhere else in the world do you still find something like that.”“Members of the Central Arctic Caribou Herd congregate at the edge of the Arctic Ocean to escape the pressure from myriads of mosquitoes. A cold breeze from the ocean helps to keep mosquitoes down.” (Photo courtesy of Florian Schulz and the Anchorage Museum).Schulz’s work brings him to other places, too–but he has a particular drive to enliven what people see when they think of the Arctic. Instead of a static, blank expanse, he wants to expose the wildness most of us are not patient or bold enough to seek out. And to do it, he spends weeks and months on end camping in extreme locales, observing. The photos along the wall are the result of 18 months in the high north.“It’s a little bit of a selfish part of this, too, because I want to immerse myself, I want to feel, I want to smell, I want to listen to the birds–and then of course capture those visual moments, as well,” Schulz said. “It’s more than the animal itself, it’s the whole atmosphere.”His work draws on familiar themes from the environmental conservation movement, but it never feels heavy-handed. Even a pair of calm-looking polar bears suspended on a lonely ice float in one image isn’t focused on their particular plight, so much as it showcases the habitat evaporating around them. The image isn’t an admission of defeat, but it poses a heavy question: How will these animals go on living here?“An ice floe miles from shore is the only place for a polar bear mother and her cub to rest as the summer progresses.” (Photo courtesy of Florian Schulz and the Anchorage Museum)Given his subjects, and his recent forays into shooting video, Schulz has to be versatile, packing in more photography equipment than camping supplies. His expeditions are intensive and expensive, and though he’s an independent freelancer he partners with conservation organizations and foundations to finance all the production behind the work.“To The Arctic” is Schulz’s first solo exhibit at the Anchorage Museum, and is on display through Sunday.